Although the Atlantic Division team lost its opening round game at the NHL All-Star Game tournament on Saturday in Las Vegas, Florida Panthers All-Stars Jonathan Huberdeau and coach Andrew Brunette still made their mark on the event.
After the Central Division took an early 1-0 lead, Huberdeau found himself all alone in the slot to tie the game 3:28 in.
With Huberdeau skating alongside Toronto’s Auston Matthews and Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman, it was not long until he made an impact on the game again.
Hedman was one of three Lightning players Huberdeau skated alongside — which could have been awkward given the rivalry that has been brewing between the two sides.
Huberdeau did not let it become so.
“Here, when we’re all playing together, we’re all friends,” he said.
“Obviously, when we play Tampa, we don’t like them that much, but everyone is a great person, so it is great to hang out with these guys and to get to know them a little bit more.”
With the Central scoring back-to-back goals following Huberdeau’s marker, Atlantic coach Brunette put his top guys on the ice.
It resulted in a Matthews goal, which came off of a backhand feed from Huberdeau that he was able to deflect past Central goalie Cam Talbot to make it a 3-2 game.
“Matthews is unbelievable,” Huberdeau said. “It was a tremendous shot and it was so easy for me to pass him the puck.”
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That score would stand until the end of the first half of play.
Patrice Bergeron tied the game up 1:02 into the second half, but the Central Divison took control from there.
It appeared that the Atlantic Division took the lead at one point after Hedman found the back of the net, but after a video review, it was determined that Kyle Connor had scored before Hedman’s goal happened — and the Central never relinquished their lead from there.
After Jordan Kyrou made it a 6-5 game, the two sides traded goals back and forth until it appeared as though Kyle Connor scored to put the Central Division up 7-5.
In an All-Star Game rarity, Brunette called for a coach’s challenge and the goal was taken off the board for offside.
Actually, Brunette said the review came from upstairs.
“I wish I could say it came from me,” he said.
Alex DeBrincat did score seconds later to restore the 7-5 lead and it was game over for the Atlantic.
Huberdeau’s two points tied himself for the Atlantic lead in points with Matthews and Rasmus Dahlin while the Central Division went on to lose 5-3 to the Metropolitan Divison in the final.
Huberdeau and Brunette now join their Florida cohorts and have a couple days off. Not only do the Panthers not play again until Feb. 16, they don’t return to practice until the end of this week.